Australian government encourages media to be “body image friendly”

Leave it to the Aussies to come up with another awesome global contribution (you can also thank them for Kylie Minogue and Vegemite).

The Australian government recently partnered with The Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorders awareness and prevention group, to create a body image initiative. Magazines, designers, retailers and modeling agencies will be encouraged to follow a voluntary code of conduct, and will be deemed “body image friendly” if they do. According to Feministing, some of the recommendations from the government’s National Advisory Group on Body Image include:

“disclosing and avoiding the digital enhancement of images; banning ultra-thin female models or overly muscular male ones, in addition to models under the age of 16 to advertise adult clothes; employing a greater diversity of ethnicities and model body sizes; eschewing editorial and advertising content that promotes negative body image through rapid weight loss and cosmetic surgery, and, for retailers, carrying a wider variety of clothing sizes that better reflects the demands of the community.”

Sounds pretty good, right? Celebratory sirens definitely went off in my head when I read the news, along with some grumbling regarding my geographical whereabouts (I really just have a weakness for that Aussie accent).

But then I realized why all this groundbreaking brilliance sounds familiar. It isn’t as groundbreaking as I’d hoped.

In January 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) also formed a health initiative with a long list of recommendations (educate the industry about eating disorders, require models with eating disorders to seek professional help, develop workshops, supply healthy food at fashion shows, etc). A who’s who of industry insiders signed off as supporters of the initiative, including unabashed advocate for all things ultra-thin, Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.

To its credit, the CFDA is still keeping the dialogue going, three years after the initiative formed (earlier this year, a group of industry insiders gathered on the eve of New York Fashion Week for a panel discussion titled, “The Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size”).

But let’s be honest—has anything changed? Do you notice a more diverse pool of models in fashion magazines? Are there less visibly protruding bones on the catwalks? Have you seen yourself or anyone you know physically represented in advertisements? Or is it all just a lot of talk?

Feministing says the Australian initiative is apparently the first of its kind in the world, unique in its view of “negative body image and associated issues of low self esteem, poor self confidence and eating disorders as serious health and societal issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way across our society.” But all these hopeful prose sound suspiciously similar to the CFDA’s earlier assertions.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some real change from Down Under, but I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.

— Michelle Konstantinovsky is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. It would be nice if you visited her website: www.michellekmedia.com. Also, she may learn to use Twitter more effectively if you follow her @michelley415.

5 thoughts on “Australian government encourages media to be “body image friendly”

  1. It seems good but is pretty worrisome. How are they going to decide what ultra-thin and too muscular mean? There are plenty of real, healthy people who are really skinny and very muscular.

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